More on bed bugs in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: again with the HAZMAT showers?!?

by nobugsonme on April 30, 2009 · 4 comments

in bed bug blame game, bed bug detection, bed bug treatment, bed bugs, bed bugs in hotels, landlords and tenants, new york city, pennsylvania, usa

Remember last week, when the boardinghouse/SRO hotel above the Tara Station Bar in Harrisburg was found to be infested — apparently by bed bugs — but in the two stories covering the case, WHPTV (CBS Channel 21) reporters refused to say the phrase “bed bugs”, referring instead to “bugs” and “insects?”

This was so, even though the attached videos showed what clearly appeared to be bed bugs crawling on a ceiling (speckled with what appeared to be bed bug fecal stains) and also crawling on a man’s shirt, and even though the same man showed them “bug bites” he had sustained? (Note: if you have an itchy bite mark and a bed bug is crawling on your shirt in broad daylight, entertaining a video crew, it’s probably a pretty safe bet you have bed bug bites.)

(You can see those earlier videos from CBS Channel 21 here and here.)

Well, we kind of figured that story wasn’t over.

Today, WGAL reports that the building was shut down by city code inspectors:

Police and fire companies are looking into possible bed bugs at a Harrisburg hotel. The chief of police said it is not healthy for anyone to stay the night.

Four city code inspectors were inside a small hotel owned by Wali Rentals LLC on Fourth and Chestnut streets Wednesday afternoon after they received a complaint about a bed bug problem.

Officials also closed a restaurant on the first floor of the building as a precaution.

Chief Charles Kellar said the inspectors themselves were infested with the bugs during their investigation. They were sent to Harrisburg Hospital to be decontaminated.

“One had a cuff, and she undid the cuff of her pants, and a lot came out of there. One guy said it looked like the walls were moving,” said Kellar.

(Notice how WGAL is referring to “possible bed bugs.”)

The residents were removed from the building:

Tenants were ushered through a mobile Haz-Mat shower unit to be decontaminated.

They were then taken to a local shelter and given a new set of clothing.

This is the second time we’ve heard of a HAZMAT shower being used to decontaminate residents who were asked to leave a bed bug-infested building. The first was in Jersey City last summer.

When fleeing a building where a code inspector could come out with “a lot of bugs” in a pants cuff, evacuees should be allowed to shower and change to fresh clothing and shoes. Precautions do need to be taken to avoid moving bed bugs to vehicles or to the evacuees’ next location.

But consensus in the comments on the Jersey City post was that a HAZMAT decontamination shower was overkill.

The hotel is getting three “exterminator treatments” (let’s hope that is enough to get rid of bed bugs in the building).

And apparently, the owner Wali Mohmand is still blaming tenants’ hygiene for bed bugs:

“I’m not their maid, they have to clean after themselves,” said Mohmand.

Sounds like CBS 21 News, the city code inspectors, and Mr. Mohmand still have a bit to learn about how bed bugs operate. They can infest any home, clean or dirty, cluttered or empty.

Oh, but wait, I forgot: first, someone in Harrisburg needs to actually verify that the “possible bed bugs” are, in fact, bed bugs.

Is that really so difficult?!?

1 nobugsonme April 30, 2009 at 1:03 am

Oh, and I am a bit worried about the attached building next door…

2 persona-non-bugga May 2, 2009 at 1:50 pm

I think haz-mat showers might’ve been a sound call. Obviously, overkill for most situations. But in this case? I feel relieved for the neighbors/co-residents of the new homes/shelters these folks will be moving to.

The inspectors, who are probably in motion while in these apartments, some how picked up bedbugs. At least one of them transported “a lot” of bugs out of there. Walls moving with bedbugs. This infestation sounds beyond huge.

In this situation, even if the residents took showers in their apts, bedbugs might’ve crawled on to them en route to the front door.

3 Cilecto May 2, 2009 at 11:43 pm

We both know that BBs are a relative mystery to the non-initiated. A hotel guest might report “baby roaches” while someone might ver-react to a beetle in bed as a “bedbug”. “Muggles” might tune out when hearing about “bedbugs”, believing them to be the stuff of bedtime wishes and cranks (like us). Besides, TV reporters are not necessarily the best to ID bedbugs. Finally, this place probably suffers from multi-insect infestation. So, reporting as “bugs” or “insects” (rather than Cimex Lectularius) was, IMHO, a good call. Re the HAZMAT. Yes, people will apply the familiar to new situations (like schools equating BBs to head lice and sending kids home). But, here you had people who were, in fact, exposed to “hazardous materials” (glad someone recognizes BBs as such)and correctly used available tools and techniques (offsite shower and a clean set of clothes at the end) to solve a “new” problem.

Sleep tight,

4 nobugsonme May 3, 2009 at 8:00 pm

Hi Persona and Cilecto!

I should clarify my position: As I said above, showers and a change of clothing before leaving the site ARE a good idea, and no, I don’t think the residents should have been sent inside to shower in the building (which would not ensure they did not bring bed bugs out).

My limited understanding is these HAZMAT showers are taken with one’s clothing on.

Reports suggest residents received HAZMAT showers on-site, but then were taken off-site to a shelter for a clothing change. (I would suggest that the change of clothing in the decon area is essential to avoid spreading bed bugs).

And then, oddly, the inspectors were themselves not treated on-site, but taken to a hospital for decontamination. I am perplexed as to why they did not also need decon showers on-site? In fact, they probably should have had them, and changed their clothing, to avoid infesting their vehicles and the hospital.

It’s both the order of what was done (why relocate residents before letting them change clothing? why relocate inspectors before doing ANYTHING for them?) that confuses me, as well as the inconsistency, since inspectors and tenants were both exposed, but given different treatment.

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